Can pop art be post modern?
"Post-modern," the label many art historians elect to stamp on 21st century gallery artwork, looks a lot like the ‘isms’ from 20th century realism, cubism, minimalism, neo minimalism, neo expressionism.
In shows in Salt Lake and Park City it’s also looking a lot like pop art.
The latest work on display Park City’s Terzian Galleries echoes the interest in banal everyday objects soup cans, Brillo pads — that enticed 1950s and 1960s pop artists. One could say Christopher Shill’s bold fascination with the two-dimensional side of a sign or boxcar subtly suggests the number and letter type play of Jasper Johns and that Joe Carter’s interest in painting portraits of large typewriters and spools of thread has a pronounced Andy Warhol-like resonance.
"Pop art is definitely of the now," Terzian Galleries owner Karen Terzian confirms, "It’s what’s happening. It’s reflective of the era in which it’s created, because it references popular imagery and everyday imagery."
Within the last four years Terzian has obseved the number of contemporary galleries in Park City increasing at the rapid pace of one new contemporary gallery a year. There’s a place for work that is up to speed with the Los Angeles and New York art scene here, she says, and some of the newer work she might like to bring to her own gallery is the outright pop art of Brazilian artist Romero Britto.
"Britto’s work is all over the world now and he’s a pop artist you can’t classify him in any other way and I think maybe Park City is ready for that kind of artist who is on the extreme side of pop art," she said. "I wouldn’t have said so four years ago, but the market [here] has really opened up."
Salt Lake Art Center Curator Jim Edwards, who assembled the center’s current exhibition "Post-Modern Utah," selected a celebrated 1960s British pop artist-turned Sundance resident, Jann Haworth, among the handful of painters and multimedia artists representing the state’s current cultural zeitgeist. However, he is careful to note that like many artists, Haworth "out-lived" that period in which she played a key role, and has since moved on. For Haworth, "while her work might have some pop overtones, at this point, the ‘pop’ label is probably kind of worn," he says.
Haworth and her then-husband British pop artist Peter Blake designed the Beatle’s 1967 "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band" cover and she has since replicated some of that imagery in other ways. In 2004 she and nearly 30 other painters, covered the side of a Salt Lake building with a large-scale mural called "Salt Lake Pepper" using the original album as a template, but then inserting modern-day heroes in the band members’ stead. She also designed the pop-inspired costumes of The Egyptian Theatre Company’s "Tommy" production.
But her post-modern work at the Center, "Painters Dreaming," an ensemble of six canvases that remember six of the historically important artists from Lee Krasner to Hannah Hawk to Pablo Picasso, is hard to define as part of that era. Using clear vinyl sewn to raw canvas, and sticking mostly to black and white paint, she reproduces popular images, but in a new, arguably un-pop like way.
"The idea was that it would be interesting to have a kind of film strip related to a person that has been deceased and when they’re dead, they could be dreaming of the paintings they’d done all over the world, like comic strips," she explained. "I’m much more interested in abstract art at this point than I am in straight pop. Film is really my connection to pop and if film is pop, I’m pop. But if it’s not, I’m not."
Edwards will soon give a speech about pop art prints at North Carolina’s Louise Wells Cameron Art Museum and considers one of the most important shows he’s ever curated to be a 2001 Houston show entitled "Pop Art: U.S. U.K. connection 1956-1966." But he insists "the pop art movement doesn’t exist anymore."
Edwards defines pop art as a historical period beginning for the first five years in England in 1956, whose last great works were complete by 1966 (which "in modern time, if you can keep a movement going for 10 years, that’s a big deal," Edwards says).
According to Edwards, the movement began in Britain, when post- World War II artists became scholars of American culture through "sharp and sexy" advertisements, and British critic Lawrence Alloway coined the term in reference to the popular culture-based work.
The movement spread to the United States as a reaction to the heavy-intellectualism of abstract expressionism, by offering a return to images.
"It was an overnight phenomena in the States and was very successful because in some ways, you really didn’t have to have a deep knowledge of art history to appreciate it at some level," Edwards says. "Pop was a bright and timely reflection of the culture that existed. It was dealing with what was happening on the streets right now imagery taken from magazines, from newspapers recycled in this aggressive American way."
Edwards admires pop art for being "a true reflection of the time from which it came" and gives the movement credit as the beginning of the post-modern movement.
Today he finds ‘pop’ a tricky word, he confesses. "In almost every community, there are younger artists that paint pop material," he says. "They’re dealing with pop imagery and popular culture imagery. Coca-cola is still with us you could argue that’s a pop image."
Carter, whose paintings of plastic toy trucks, worn pencils and other objects can be found at Terzian these days, both accepts and rejects the pop label.
"That’s one of the things I’d call it, but I don’t think of myself as primarily a pop artist," he says. "My colors are more muted, and my work is more three-dimensional and has an atmospheric feeling that isn’t pop really."
And while fellow painter Shill cites pop artists Wayne Thiebaud and Johns among his influences, he says, "I actually haven’t really thought of categorizing my work."
That sentiment is universal, according to Haworth. In a way, she says, there’s no such thing as ‘post-modernism.’
"An artist never thinks exactly that they belong to a movement they’re just doing what their next idea is," she explains.
Haworth mentions many art critics are claiming that "art is dead" — that all artists seem to be doing these days is rehashing the past. It’s a theory she says she hears mostly coming from Europe.
Haworth categorically refutes that assumption.
"European critics try to say nothing is original since modernism and I’m allergic to that notion," she says. "Each person who is born is brand new. Of course they will step on and over the work that has gone before, but they see the world with a fresh set of eyes and that profoundly affects the things they have to say."
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